Gun owners might want to double-check the whereabouts of their firearms if a proposed city ordinance passes.
Tucson is considering a law mandating residents report any lost or stolen gun to the Tucson Police Department within 48 hours.
Proponents say it's an important tool to prevent guns from winding up in the hands of criminals. Opponents see it as just another step down the road to totalitarianism.
Councilman Steve Kozachik, who is proposing the measure, believes requiring people to report a lost or stolen gun would help police track firearms used in crimes, and help fight straw buyers who legally buy guns and then pass them on to criminals.
"This is simply about protecting the public," Kozachik said. "We should have a law enforcement organization that has the ability to identify weapons that have been stolen. It'll help with prosecution, and will help to prevent people from hiding their own involvement in a crime by falsely claiming that their gun had been ripped off."
City officials estimate the law will cost nothing to enforce as it will be part of the standard report people file for a theft or lost property.
Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said it will also indemnify owners if their gun is used to commit a crime.
Not only "are you helping the community by reporting it lost or stolen," Villaseñor said. "It does absolve you from liability. It's a way of protecting yourself."
Villaseñor said the Major Cities Chiefs Association recommends cities record every transaction involving a firearm so police have a comprehensive database to trace the chain of possession. But he didn't feel that was the right fit for Tucson at this time.
Kozachik agreed, saying, "Going that far would bring out the people who are opposed to any sort of registration, so in an effort to ease those concerns, I'm only picking the low-hanging fruit."
More pressing needs
Gun-rights advocates said the proposal is further proof the council is more concerned with symbolic laws than fixing a deteriorating city.
"So let me get this straight: They want to place a further burden - carrying a criminal penalty - upon a person who has just been victimized by a crime?" Todd Rathner, lobbyist for the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association and a National Rifle Association board member, wrote in an email. "If this City Council would spend half as much time promoting business, and fixing Tucson's streets as they do fiddling with gun control, Tucson would be a thriving, model city instead of the mess it is."
It also shows the city still hasn't grasped the state's pre-emption law which prohibits municipalities from passing laws stricter than state statutes, despite countless rebukes from the Legislature, said Ken Rineer, president of Gun Owners of Arizona.
"The Mayor & Council continues to burden the Tucson Police Department with ordinances they are incapable of enforcing while at the same time they underfund them," Rineer wrote in an email.
He said the council succeeds only in embarrassing itself on issues like this, which he said violate citizens' constitutional rights.
Villaseñor said the law is not a pretext for officers to harass citizens or to trample their gun rights.
"The logistics of that are unfathomable to me," Villaseñor said. "We want something that's non-invasive to Second Amendment rights. ... We're just asking the same thing as we would a car. If someone steals it from you, report it to us."
Penalties for violating the law haven't been determined yet.
Kozachik said he is working with the city attorney on specifics and should have a draft in place by March 19.
In other cities and states with similar reporting laws, penalties range from $50 up to $2,000 for first time offenders. Repeat offenders in some places receive up to 90 days in jail.
But Kozachik doesn't foresee Tucson's ordinance as too heavy-handed.
"This isn't intended to be putting people in jail," he said. "It's intended as an aid to TPD to trace the history of a weapon back to original owners when they turn up in a crime, and to prevent people from falsely claiming that theirs had been stolen, allowing them to avoid complicity in a crime."
If experience else is an indicator, prosecution won't be much of an issue. Even though dozens of cities and states have had reporting laws on the books for years, an Internet records check shows enforcement is rare.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, 30 cities have adopted reporting ordinances over the past few years. However, no one has ever been prosecuted under those laws.
Kozachik said punishing people isn't the main focus of the law.
"The fact of our getting this on the books as both an educational tool and an enforcement aid to the police is what this is about," Kozachik said. "The police see a value in it. Mayors Against Illegal Guns see a value in it. So having Tucson lead on the issue of common-sense gun laws again is what this is about."
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Contact Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DarrenDaRonco.